The stated aim of PCNs is to strengthen and redesign primary care.
After years of system redesign, GP-bashing from all directions, and relentlessly spiralling workloads, the workforce is worn out.
GPs are tired of being promised improvements, only to find real-term pay cuts, with increasing demands placed upon them.
We’ve been demoralised by criticism from all directions – the media, successive health secretaries, our hospital colleagues… No wonder over half are choosing to retire or leave the profession.
GPs have come to expect that new services may be funded for a number of years, only to have the funding subsequently removed, with the expectation remaining that the service should continue.
The workforce has learnt that any new service proposals at best come with strings heavily attached, and at worst may prove to be a poisoned chalice.
GPs need time, honesty and transparency to build a positive relationship again with NHS England.
New service proposals may prove to be a poisoned chalice
It might prove essential to link surgeries together, giving support to weaker practices from those that remain more secure.
I’d argue that encouraging total mergers would be a shortsighted and damaging road to go down. However, whether we like it or not, using these networks may be the only way that primary care in England can be saved from total collapse.
But in order for PCNs to move forward in their development, NHSE needs to show commitment to the profession.
Not small pittances of extra funding, with unachievable targets and workload attached, but genuine concessions to recognise the strain that GPs have been under.
There must be recognition of the ever-increasing work that family doctors have shouldered over the past decade – continuing in difficult circumstances to prop up the NHS and keep their populations healthy.
There are various means by which NHSE could show their appreciation of our services – bonus schemes to support and retain GP partners would be a good place to start, and possibly extra bonuses for those working seven or more clinical sessions. Continued workforce support to GPs, without countless strings attached, and meaningful interventions to reduce our workload would also be welcomed.
As a profession, we are understandably disinclined to take strike action. But the alternative means by which GPs express their disillusionment is eminently more destructive – we leave the profession.
And GPs will continue to take this ‘permanent strike’ action until NHSE shows a greater commitment to building our trust, and improving our working conditions.
PCNs are at a crucial juncture, and more needs to be done to win back the commitment of GPs.
Dr Katie Musgrave is a GP trainee in Plymouth and quality improvement fellow for the South West